Art History Definition: Portrait and Portraiture

Image © Österreichische Galerie Belvedere; used with permission
Gustav Klimt (Austrian, 1862-1918). Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Oil and gold on canvas. 138 x 138 cm. Image © Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna


(noun) - Portraits are works of art that record the likenesses of humans or animals that are alive or have been alive. A posthumous portrait (a portrait rendered after the death of the subject) can be achieved by either copying another portrait or following instructions of the person who commissions the work.

Usually, a portrait records the subject's features. A portrait of the art historian Robert Rosenblum (1927-2006) by Kathleen Gilje captures the sitter's face and celebrates his outstanding Ingres scholarship through this appropropriation of Ingres' portrait of the Comte de Pastoret (1791-1857).

Ingres' portrait was completed in 1826 (Art Institute of Chicago). Gilje's portrait was completed in 2006, several months before Rosenblum's death in December. Robert Rosenblum collaborated on the choice of appropriation.

Sometimes a portrait includes inanimate objects that refer to the subject's identity. Francis Picabia's portrait of Alfred Stiegliz Ici, C'est Ici Stieglitz/Here is Stieglitz (1915, Stietglitz Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art) depicts only a broken bellows camera. Stieglitz was a famous photographer, dealer and Georgia O'Keeffe's husband. The early twentieth-century Modernists loved machines and Picabia's affection for the machine and Stieglitz is expressed here.

Single images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ or any saints are not portraits. They are called "devotional images."

Portraiture refers to the category for this subject matter.


por·tret or por·tret·tchore